On this day, when the world marks the International Day of the Girl, I find myself pondering on why we commemorate this day and what it really means to empower the girl child. Despite the fact that over the years different people and organizations have mobilized efforts aimed towards emancipating the girl child it is imperative to understand the rationale for these campaigns and initiatives. Or to put it in another way, what do all these mean for the girls?
It is a fact that girls in Kenya face a myriad of challenges ranging from socialization issues, stereotypes, cultural issues, lack of education and societal norms which all seem to dictate the kind of life a girl should live – what a good girl should or shouldn’t do. Lack of formal education in particular has been a huge stumbling block to the quality of life that girls in Kenya live. Illiteracy has been found to have strong links with early and forced marriages which are real challenges for girls in Kenya. Statistics reveal that educated girls are more likely to delay marriage as well as pregnancy and that girls who proceed to secondary school are six times less likely to end up in early marriages compared to the ones with little or no education. In Kenya an estimated 23% of the girls get married before their 18th birthday. This exposes them to health complications, threatens their lives and kills their dreams and aspirations.
So why do we celebrate this day? Simply put, we do it to remind the world that the lives of our girls do matter and should be safeguarded. The Kenya Constitution 2010 gives us all equal rights and fundamental freedoms outlined in chapter four. Girls have the right to equality and freedom from discrimination (article 27). Girls deserve quality education and conducive environments to explore their gifts and talents for them to make informed choices about their future.
Hence, empowerment means that the girl child becomes aware of who she is and what makes her authentic. She becomes aware of her capabilities, her likes and dislikes, her boundaries, her options and opportunities and all these enable her to develop into an authentic human being. It means that she lives a healthy life. The health risks associated with early and unplanned pregnancies as well as early and forced marriages cannot be underestimated. We need to allow girls to be children first, before they become wives or parents. Empowerment means that we give the girls the opportunity to get an education and pursue their dreams. They too get to help in breaking the cycle of poverty and strengthening our economy. They get to contribute to nation building!
As we celebrate this day, let us remember why we are doing it.
I mentor girls because I believe in encouraging, uplifting and cheering them on. I am a mentor first and foremost because my experiences and knowledge count for something. The girls know there is someone out there who cares, who listens and who demystifies things for them. They don’t always have to learn through mistakes!
So let us all step it up for our girls!
Happy International Day of the Girl 2017!
Photo courtesy: Plerre Holtz|UNICEF